When society wants magic

If you are familiar with the LaVeyan notion of magic, then you recognized today’s United States Presidential inauguration as a highly magical event. It was a massive catharsis, for both the Trump supporters, who ranged from notable white nationalists to middle-class supporters from “middle America” defiantly wearing “Deal With It!” t-shirts bearing the visage of our new Commander in Chief, on the one hand, to the protestors, who ranged from love-in style hippies to flame-wielding anarchists, on the other. A cadre of Satanists, many of them my friends, even made an appearance with the usual amount of theater and humor… and why wouldn’t they? Satanists know better than anyone else the value of ritual catharsis, the power of collective symbolic action.

It is a type of magic.

It was this Commander In Chief who transformed the office, through his campaign style, from a role with a pretense of decision and exposition to a role overtly rooted in theater and guile. No, I’m not so naive as to think there was no theater or guile in previous presidencies; but something surely has changed, and everyone can sense it. Perhaps we can understand the phenomenon using the language that futurists use when they talk about technology. Our politics has shown a long slow history of creeping corruption and performance, that has accelerated over time at an increasing pace, culminating in today’s political singularity: the election of a fabulator and performance artist extra-ordinary!
And the people love him for it. People love magic, after all.

The parallels between LaVey’s magic and Trump’s magic are striking. For example, LaVey often included Christian blasphemies deliberately for their shock value: knowing that so many people in the United States are brought up steeped in Christian culture, the purpose of blasphemy is to shock people out of their normal world-view, to jar us just enough out of the norm to enable us to better deconstruct those hidden assumptions and symbols that we take for granted. And isn’t that also what Trump is doing with this “anti-PC” language? The gross, sexist, and crude language is a deliberate blasphemy against liberal United States culture. It is Trump’s ritual invocation: cathartic for his supporters, and emotionally manipulative for his opponents. Truly powerful magic, as evidenced by the fact that liberals are entranced by it: responding to every crude tweet, bemoaning every offensive word. They are as hypnotized by Trump as his supporters are.

He reminds me of another deeply magical figure in history: Edward Kelley. If you have studied esoterica and medieval magic, you probably know the name. Indeed, LaVey referenced the work of Edward Kelley and John Dee many times. The “angelic language” of Enochian was created by them, and LaVey dutifully makes use of this language in his rituals.

So let me tell you about Edward Kelley… the historical man, not the mystical figure.

Ed Kelley was born in Worchester, England in 1555. Legal records there and in London, where he later moved, have him charged for corpse-stealing, forgery, and theft, all before he turned 25. He was put on the pillory the first time he was convicted of forgery; the second time they cut his ears off. He started wearing a monk’s cowl to hide his missing ears, and presumably because it helped him to appear trustworthy.

At the age of 27 he fled London, where he was wanted for a whole host of crimes from swindling and forgery to traveling under a false name. He followed the Thames to Mortlake, and ended up at the home of John Dee.

John Dee was 55 years old, and a famous and respectable man. He was the healer, adviser and court astrologer for Queen Elizabeth I. He was well-educated and known as one of the great minds of the era. He was also fascinated by alchemy, spirits, and the occult.

So young lad, wanted con-artist, Ed Kelley, walks into the home of John Dee in March of 1582. By some strange coincidence, Ed is fascinated by the same topics that interest the older man. Ed even (grudgingly, of course) admits that he has some skill communing with spirits… he even went into a trance and spoke with the archangel Uriel!

Over the span of a few days, during which Kelley stayed in Dee’s home and had access to Dee’s library, Kelley was able to put on quite a show. He had visions, spoke in tongues, write in unknown but convincing-looking script. The youth said all the right things–and we can imagine he said them with a silver tongue–and old John Dee was so impressed with the boy that he gave Kelley room and board and a salary of £50 per year.

John Dee had a much younger wife–she was 27 years old at the time–who may have protested the sudden appearance of this vagrant youth on the doorstep. But Dee was not to be deterred! He had his protégé, and a chance to tap into the spirit world in a way that he had been trying to do for many years.

The political winds began to turn sour toward alchemy and spirits in England, so they made their way to Europe, which was ruled at the time by Emperor Rudolph II… who happened to also be fascinated by machines, books and alchemy. While England was trying to make its religion more austere, “Holy Rome” was not so holy, and not so Christian. The perfect environment for Dee and Kelley to travel from town to town, showing off Kelley’s impressive abilities.

It was during this period that Kelley came up with (or “was enlightened about”) Enochian, the language of the angels that nobody could understand but himself. But the cultural climate on the continent was perfectly primed for this kind of performance. Kelley claimed he could transmute elements into gold, and the people went wild. He even produced, one day, a mysterious red powder that he would wave in front of his audiences, telling them that if only the powder is used properly, it can transform base elements into gold.

His fame and power exploded, in part because of his personal charisma and ability to manipulate (LaVeyan magic!), but also in part because the society at the time was ready for exactly his kind of con. They hungered for magic! They wanted to be fooled.

He got a little cocky. The relationship with Dee began to sour. By an amazing coincidence, the Angel Uriel would give commands to Dee (through the interpretation of Kelley, of course) that happened to coincide with what Kelley wanted. One time, Uriel even apparently wanted Dee’s wife to sleep with Kelley.

It is a sign of the power and charisma of the young man that Dee even complied… at least, at first.

Meanwhile, word of Ed Kelley’s ability to make gold from nothing spread far and wide. Rudolph II knighted him for his fame… even though he had never actually seen Kelley perform this magical act. There were even rumors that Elizabeth I was interested in having him return to England, despite the English prescriptions against alchemy.

Kelley had achieved perhaps the ultimate in fame and recognition as reward for his extreme level of personal magic–his wile and guile–and manipulation of people’s beliefs.

And he died for it. He ended up being arrested by Rudolph, who locked him up and demanded he produce gold. The historical record here gets a bit murky, but in some sequence or other Kelley: failed to produce gold, was locked up, escaped, was caught by others, failed to produce gold for them, was locked up, got wounded, and finally died.

Which is what happens, I suppose, when your life is based on a tall tale. This is one of the risks of being a very, very good magician.. in the LaVeyan sense of the word.

It is also something I was thinking about as I watched the ritual performance on display by our new Magician in Chief, Donald Trump.